Sunday, January 9, 2011

My Favorite Moment of the Day

A magazine I thumbed through in the laundry room yesterday published paragraphs from writers describing their favorite moment of the day. After reading their stories about tucking their children into bed or going out early for a newspaper and pastry, I found myself pondering my favorite moment of a day in Yellowstone. I had pretty much settled on the following, until just this moment. The warming hut is empty after a slow day with just two groups of snowmobilers. I visited with two old friends, and then sat around the fire chatting with one of the new rangers and the wife of another seasonal. I had time to take a lunch break and skied along the Yellowstone River, listening to 43 swans a-swimming in an acre of open water. I’ll head home in just a few minutes, but the crackling fire, the chill on my cheeks, and the quiet of the landscape have a meditative effect, making this a favorite moment of a wonderful day.
My very favorite moment, however, is the final thirty seconds of my morning ski. I rise early this time of year, usually around 5:30 or 6:00 (don’t be impressed; I went to bed at 8:00 the night before), and work on the ol’ dissertation for an hour or so. Just as it is getting light, I head out for a quick spin around the campground, or a skate ski down the untracked-by-snowmobiles roadway. January mornings are cold and dark and it takes more willpower than I usually express at that time of day to drag myself away from my down comforter. Every day I convince myself that I can skip this once, but then I realize that there will be a day not too far distant when I will not be able to walk two steps outside my door and then ski through the best cross-country snow in the Rockies. I layer up, strap on the boots, and head grudgingly out into the sunrise.
The trail from the housing area climbs a slight hill, which inevitably makes me cranky. My blood isn’t circulating yet, so my fingers are cold, and half the time I manage to tangle up my skis in my early morning grogginess. The temptation to retreat is intense, but if I can just make it up that hill, the whole morning opens up to me and the fresh air truly goes to my head. I fall into the rhythm of the ski… swish, swish… kick ‘n’ glide… all those cliched skiing motions. I love the soft whoosh of each ski gliding over the snow, and the quietness of striding without footprints. I love leaving tracks in the smooth road surface: neat herringbones from my skate skis or slightly crooked grooves where my left knee turns out when I try to ski a straight line. The clouds turn pink with the rising sun, casting the brown plywood of Grant’s Mission ’66 structures in a surprisingly romantic glow.
Thirty minutes into my ski I begin cursing my own laziness for keeping me in bed that extra half hour, precious Yellowstone minutes I could have spent skiing. As the pink clouds fade to grey, I know that if I want to shower (and sometimes I do debate on whether that’s necessary after all), it’s time to head home. Now, as I turn into the residence area, that hill I dragged myself up just minutes earlier becomes an exhilarating downhill glide and I kick off down the trail to see how far the snow will carry me. On a cold morning, the momentum might take me right past my front door. I savor those sweet seconds on swift skis—wind in my hair, sun cresting the tops of the lodgepole pines, blood flowing easily now and fingers perfectly warm—wishing that I could ski the day away. For those few moments I am soley a skier and I am in Yellowstone, and nothing could be finer.
And that is my favorite moment of the day.

Sunrise from my front door.

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